Woe is Three: On Early Shooting Struggles

We knew this was coming.

We knew that the Raptors’ plan was to have the ball hum around the perimeter until it found an open man on a roll, cutting, or spotting up. We knew that the idea was to improve the number of assists, overall efficiency, and three-pointers taken and made.

Except there’s been one problem: The Raptors haven’t been making their three-pointers.

Now, it is, of course, important to note that the Raptors have only played five games and are sitting at a respectable 3–2 when you consider that their losses were to Western Conference powerhouses San Antonio and Golden State. Two games that were also, by the way, within the Raptors’ grasp to win. So no, it’s not time to slam the panic button. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for concern.

So far this young season, Toronto has taken 34.6 threes per game (as compared to 24.3 in 2016–17), good for ninth-most in the league. The problem is, they’re shooting 29.5 per cent from deep as a team, which finds them 28th overall in the league.

But this isn’t such a surprise, considering the personnel of the club. DeRozan has never been a good three-point shooter, none of the team’s bigs stretch the floor outside of Ibaka, Wright has never proven he can make them consistently, Anunoby is a rookie, etc. The ball has been moving like Casey wants, and often finds good looks from the outside, but the Raps simply haven’t been able to capitalize.

Per, Toronto has shot 30.2 per cent from beyond the arc on wide open looks, which is 24th-best in the league. There are four Raptors shooting open threes at a frequency higher than 30 per cent—VanVleet, Wright, Anunoby, and Powell—and none of them are making at least 35 per cent of them.

Although most of this team evidently shouldn’t be launching threes at a high rate, there are two players we all hoped might be better than they have been: Lowry and Norm. While many will point you to the fact that Lowry hasn’t been quite himself since last season’s injuries, he’s also shown some signs of life recently, going 3–7 from three against the Lakers in a win, and nailing some key triples down the stretch. The susurrus about his shooting shouldn’t be too overwhelming, but it’s undeniable that he hasn’t shot well to begin the season.

As things stand, he’s making only 30.6 per cent of his attempts from long range, compared to a career-high 41.2 per cent last season. In fact, his overall shooting has been poor—right now he has a 47.3 true shooting percentage, which is by far the lowest of his career. This isn’t the Lowry we’ve grown accustomed to watching in Toronto. But again, recent signs have been positive, and he’s been aggressive in looking to get himself going. He’s also missed an abundance of flukey shots, including point blank layups, that will more than likely be rectified going forward.

As for Powell, the concerns with him are greater, since the sample size of his shooting prior to this season wasn’t particularly convincing. He was lights out in the playoffs last year, for example, taking 41.5 per cent of his shot attempts from three, making 44.1 per cent of them, and bursting onto the scene for the world to see. But during the 2016–17 regular season, Norm only shot 32.4 per cent from there.

This season, his shooting is down across the board, much like Lowry’s. He’s making a mere 21.4 per cent of his threes and has a true shooting percentage of 41.4, both career-lows. Unlike Lowry, however, the issues with his shooting aren’t injury-based. He’s just been missing, and with each shot his confidence seems to drop further and further. He hasn’t stopped taking the looks he gets, at least, but you can tell when he lets it fly that the swagger is gone. He seems lost in his own head in such a way that didn’t exist in preseason only weeks ago. He shot very well on catch-and-shoot triples during those games. He needs to find that rhythm again.

With both Lowry and Powell shooting poorly, that leaves Ibaka as the best three-point shooter in the starting lineup and Miles as the best coming off the bench (and probably overall). The starters have begun most games with Ibaka shooting a few triples right off the bat (he takes the third-highest amount of three-pointers on the team) because he’s the only real outside threat they have at the moment to provide them with spacing, which isn’t ideal.

Opponents have sniffed this out rather quickly, too. In both the Lakers and Warriors games, the Raptors’ foes decided to pack the paint and essentially dare Toronto to shoot them into oblivion, which, of course, the Raps struggled with. This, then, also altered the game for guys like DeRozan, who was given less space to work with when he tried to close games by driving or getting up shots in the midrange.

To contrast this all, the Raps are 27th in the league in two-pointers taken (they were 13th in 2016–17). They’re also third-best in the league in two-point percentage (55.3 per cent), a key part of their overall offensive rating of 109.7, which equates to sixth-best in the league.

It’s not time to panic. We knew this was coming. But at some point, more guys are going to need to step up—or return to form—to make this work. It’s a make or miss league, but it’s also about having the personnel to make the shots in the first place.

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